A recent report issued by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General concluded the DEA violated its own policy when it hired a TSA screener as a paid confidential source. The screener was offered rewards for helping the DEA catch passengers carrying large sums of money.
The Office of the Inspector General’s investigation found the screener was told to contact the DEA each time passengers carrying significant amounts of money were spotted during screening. The report explains that “asking the TSA Security Screener to notify the DEA of passengers carrying large sums of money in exchange for a reward based on money seized by the DEA violated the DEA’s interdiction manual.”
The report also found confidential sources were provided with Federal Employees’ Compensation Act benefits, and that the DEA failed to create a process to control that rewarding system. Such loose guidelines may have given extra liberties to DEA officers in charge of recruiting participating screeners.
According to the report, the Inspector General concluded the TSA screener hired as a confidential source ultimately “did not provide DEA any actionable information,” nor was he “paid any money by the DEA.” The source was later deactivated “for inability to provide any useful information.“
The Transportation Security Administration has never had a reputation for honesty or transparency. Agents are routinely caught stealing from passengers. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) — the federal government’s own watchdog agency — recently asserted the TSA deliberately lies to Congress in order to stay relevant — as well as to keep airports from replacing the TSA’s sex offenders with more professional and effective security agents.
The DEA has also been subject to intense scrutiny. It was recently caught paying an Amtrak employee nearly $1 million over 20 years to serve as a confidential informant. Further, a July audit of the agency’s confidential source program — which sparked the Inspector General’s investigation of the TSA screener — claimed the DEA “seriously impeded the OIG’s audit process, which has affected our ability to conduct a timely, full, and effective review of the DEA’s Confidential Source Program.”
The agency keeps 100 percent of the proceeds of property its confiscates.According to Institute for Justice attorney Robert Everett Johnson, this type of incentive, generated by federal law, “creates an obvious financial incentive to take property from people who haven’t done anything or haven’t been proven to have done anything wrong.”
Victims of civil asset forfeiture must currently prove their innocence in order to reacquire stolen property, even if the cash is taken without a conviction. The cost of a legal battle with the government leaves many individuals scrambling to cover the costs.
To advocates who have been fighting to reform civil asset forfeiture laws, like FreedomWorks’ Director of Communications Jason Pye, current laws lack “any significant protections for innocent property owners.” In a piece he wrote for FreedomWorks last year, he explained that while the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees Americans the right to due process, civil asset forfeiture policy makes it so “the individual from whom the property is seized does not have to be charged with a crime.”
“A perverse profit motive exists,” he continued, “as state and local law enforcement can receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds of these forfeiture.” That’s why it is imperative for Congress to act and “reform federal forfeiture laws in a way that restores due process and removes the profit motive that often drives law enforcement to pursue forfeitures.”
While the GAO’s investigation into the TSA screener’s acceptance of rewards from the DEA is recent, it isn’t the first time an asset forfeiture scandal has been tied to air travelers.
In 2014, the DEA seized $11,000 from Charles Clarke at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport. The then 24-year-old had his entire life savings on him, which prompted the DEA to accuse him of carrying cash tied to drug trafficking.
Clarke is now fighting the DEA in court with the help of the Institute for Justice.